Rapid7 has long been a champion of coordinated vulnerability disclosure and handling processes as they play a critical role in both strengthening risk management practices and protecting security researchers. We not only use coordinated disclosure processes in our own vulnerability disclosure and receiving activities, but also advocate for broader adoption in industry and in government policies.
Building on this, we recently joined forces with other members of the security community to urge NIST and NTIA (both part of the U.S. Dept. of Commerce) to promote adoption of coordinated vulnerability disclosure processes. In each of these two most recent filings, Rapid7 was joined by a coalition of approximately two dozen (!!) like-minded cybersecurity firms, civil society organizations, and individual researchers.
- Joint comments to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Cybersecurity Framework, available here.
- Joint comments to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration's (NTIA) "Green Paper" on the Internet of Things, available here.
The goal of the comments is for these agencies to incorporate coordinated vulnerability disclosure and handling processes into official policy positions on IoT security (in the case of NTIA) and cybersecurity guidance to other organizations (in the case of NIST). We hope this ultimately translates to broader adoption of these processes by both companies and government agencies.
What are "vuln disclosure processes" and why are they important?
Okay, first off, I really hope infosec vernacular evolves to come up with a better term than "coordinated vulnerability disclosure and handling processes" because boy that's a mouthful. But it appears to be the generally agreed-upon term.
A coordinated vulnerability disclosure and handling process is basically an organization's plan for dealing with security vulnerabilities disclosed from outside the organization. They are formal internal mechanisms for receiving, assessing, and mitigating security vulnerabilities submitted by external sources, such as independent researchers, and communicating the outcome to the vulnerability reporter and affected parties. These processes are easy to establish (relative to many other security measures) and may be tailored for an organizations' unique needs and resources. Coordinated vulnerability disclosure and handling processes are not necessarily "bug bounty programs" and may or may not offer incentives, or a guarantee of protection against liability, to vulnerability reporters.
Why are these processes important? The quantity, diversity, and complexity of vulnerabilities will prevent many organizations from detecting all vulnerabilities without independent expertise or manpower. When companies are contacted about vulnerabilities in their products or IT from unsolicited third parties, having a plan in place to get the information to the right people will lead to a quicker resolution. Security researchers disclosing vulnerabilities are also better protected when companies clarify a process for receiving, analyzing, and responding to the disclosures – being prepared helps avoid misunderstandings or fear that can lead to legal threats or conflicts.
To catch vulnerabilities they might otherwise overlook, businesses and government agencies are increasingly implementing vulnerability disclosure and handling processes, but widespread adoption is not yet the norm.
NIST Framework comments
The NIST Framework is a voluntary guidance document for organizations for managing cybersecurity risks. The Framework has seen growing adoption and recognition, and is an increasingly important resource that helps shape cybersecurity implementation in the public and private sectors. NIST proposed revisions to the Framework and solicited comments to the revisions.
In our joint comments, the coalition urged NIST to expressly incorporate vulnerability disclosure processes into the Framework. The Framework already included "external participation" components and metrics (likely directed at formal cyber threat intel sharing arrangements), but they are unclear and don't explicitly refer to vulnerability disclosure processes.
Specifically, our comments recommended that the Framework Core include a new subcategory dedicated to vulnerability disclosure processes, and to build the processes into existing subcategories on risk assessment and third party awareness. Our comments also recommended revising the "external participation" metric of the Framework Tiers to lay out a basic maturity model for vulnerability disclosure processes.
NTIA Internet of Things "Green Paper" comments
NTIA issued a “Green Paper” in late 2016 to detail its overall policies with regard to the Internet of Things, and then they solicited feedback and comments on that draft. Although the Dept. of Commerce has demonstrated its support for vulnerability disclosure and handling processes, there was little discussion about this issue in the Green Paper. The Green Paper is important because it will set the general policy agenda and priorities for the Dept. of Commerce on the Internet of Things (IoT).
In our joint comments, the coalition urged NTIA to include more comprehensive discussion vulnerability disclosure and handling processes for IoT. This will help clarify and emphasize the role of vulnerability disclosure in the Dept. of Commerce's policies on IoT security going forward.
The comments also urged NTIA to commit to actively encouraging IoT vendors to adopt vulnerability disclosure and handling processes. The Green Paper mentioned NTIA's ongoing "multistakeholder process" on vulnerability disclosure guidelines, which Rapid7 participates in, but the Green Paper did not discuss any upcoming plans for promoting adoption of vulnerability disclosure and handling processes. Our comments recommended that NTIA promote adoption among companies and government agencies in IoT-related sectors, as well as work to incorporate the processes into security guidance documents.
Rapid7 is dedicated to strengthening cybersecurity for organizations, protecting consumers, and empowering the independent security research community to safely disclose vulnerabilities they've discovered. All these goals come together on the issue of coordinated vulnerability disclosure processes. As we increasingly depend on complex and flawed software and systems, we must pave the way for greater community participation in security. Facilitating communication between technology providers and operators and independent researchers is an important step toward greater collaboration aimed at keeping users safe.
Rapid7 is thrilled to be working with so many companies, groups, and individuals to advance vulnerability disclosure and handling processes. As government agencies consider how cybersecurity fits into their missions, and how to advise the public and private sectors on what to do to best protect themselves, we expect more opportunities to come.
You can learn more about our policy engagement efforts on Rapid7's public policy page.